Cannery Row Magazine
A Literary Journal . . . with Benefits
by Tanja Rabe
by Mat Del Papa
by Roger Nash
Poetry & Musings
by Greg Patrick
by Rebecca Kramer
by John Jantunen
by Denis Stokes
Poetry & Musings
by Richard Friedenberg
by John Jantunen
by Roger & Chris Nash
by Matthew Del Papa
by Katerina Fretwell
Poetry & Musings
by Rebecca Kramer
by Nasreen Pejvack
by Nasreen Pejvack
Poetry & Musings
by Jon Tattrie
Born in Kingston - Made in Canada
The Cull of the Wild
by Tanja Rabe
We are all filled with a longing for the wild. There are few culturally sanctioned antidotes for this yearning. We were taught to feel shame for such a desire. We grew our hair long and used it to hide our feelings. But the shadow of Wild Woman still lurks behind us during our days and in our nights. No matter where we are, the shadow that trots behind us is definitely four-footed.
- Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With The Wolves
Autumn is the one time of year that I want to shack up in a cabin deep in the woods.
As the first night chill calls the end of summer and an orange harvest moon rises above the tree tops, something irresistibly calls from amongst the trees . . . the deep, musky aroma of wilting herbage, nature's colourful palette, the nip in the air like a pleasant sip of spring water and the softening light infusing the forest with its enchanting hue. Critters rummage noisily under carpets of leaves and between mossy logs while garter snakes, disturbed from catching the last rays of a dwindling fall sun as I pass by, sliver swiftly into the undergrowth,
I imagine watching the sun set and the moon rise from the wooden porch of my (sadly imaginary) cabin all throughout October, hugging a hot cup of cocoa. A crackling fire awaits inside and I fall asleep to the song of wolves and coyotes in the distance.
The fall season tends to be preciously short in Northern Ontario. The summer heat often lasts well into September, then frost hits the ground as the thermometer all of a sudden dips way below zero. Within the blink of an eye, the trees seem to turn colour and shed their bounty in a mad rush when, tight on the heels of Halloween, Old Man Winter comes roaring in white-out squalls down from the Arctic, shaking lose the last dry leaves and chasing black bears into their dens for the long nap ahead until well into April. The (raccoon-proof) garbage cans are finally safe until the spring.
A few years ago, as some of you may know, John and I relocated the family from temperate Southern Ontario to Capreol, a tiny railroad town just north of Sudbury perched at the very edge of the wilderness, where black bears roam the neighbourhoods and woods stealing trash cans and competing in the annual blueberry hunt, hordes of bloodsucking, winged vermin chase panicked hikers - like yours truly - through the bush and beautiful lakes set amidst stunning rockscapes invite for a plunge - if you don't mind hosting the odd leech. Nascar-style snowmobile races roar through the woods all winter long and Quads (4-wheeled ATVs) tear up trails the rest of the year, making sure the wild things know who's boss up there - or at least pretends to be.
Along for the move came our Boston Terrier/Boxer cross, Roxy, a sweet, but feisty, rescue dog that has a strong, though occasionally misguided, passion for chasing anything that moves, barring the odd cat standing its ground - hissing, sharp clawed furies that she cautiously backs away from with tail lodged firmly between legs.
A city dog through and through, Roxy had never met a bear before and our first run-in with a juvenile cub on a blueberry-fringed path along the Vermilion River in Capreol almost ended in potential mayhem due to her innocence.
We might not even have noticed the bear at all, had she not disturbed the young bruin's feast amidst the blue bounty just a few feet off the trail amongst the evergreens. Her excited bark was shortly accompanied by a noisy thrashing of something substantially bigger than her and, all of a sudden, I was facing a black bear desperately trying to shake off my overzealous dog, hot in pursuit, lumbering at a good speed down the path straight towards me.
Deer in the headlights-style I had, thankfully, no mind or time to make a move and the bear veered off the trail as it spotted me blocking its way, crashing into the bush just a few yards ahead. Having lived in Muskoka, John and I quickly reminded ourselves that despite their size, black bears were really just overgrown raccoons, often a lot less gutsy than their smaller cousins, and we quickly laughed off the tension from the surprise encounter, which certainly wouldn't be the last during our year spent in Capreol.
Fall flashed by into winter. Weeks of -30 C kept us mostly indoors as we watched the snowbanks grow to unimaginable heights and Roxy - a decidedly non-northern breed with barely enough fur to keep herself warm inside the house - just stared accusingly at us from her spot on the couch, not in the least amused at the lack of W-A-L-K-S we took her on, a word we replaced with 'stroll' so as not to incite further displeasure.
Since time moves on and so do winters, March rolled in and with it the first, less frigid days that almost imperceptibly reduced the snow banks to compact mounts of ice overnight, turning driveways and trails into veritable slip'n slides.
On one such fine, early spring day, the temperature had almost climbed up to zero with the ice-encrusted snow sparkling blindingly in the sun, just warm enough to take the dog out for some much- needed exercise, tightly wrapped in her trendy Hudson's Bay canine coat. Her slim paws stubbornly kept any booties from staying put, so a bit of frosty-toed limping was a chance we had to take.
After dinner with the kids - and John busy over at the Youth Center keeping an eye on Capreol's rowdy young'uns - Roxy and I bundled up and headed towards the the woods at the end of our street with the sun on a steady decline towards the top of the tree line. I figured, we had about a good half-hour before the dark was going to descend inside the forest, plenty of time for the dog to freeze her paws off and decide she'd had enough fresh air.
The warm rays during the day had done a good job of thinning the layer of ice on the track, crackling like broken glass under my boots, with most of the path already in shards torn up from the continuous grind of snowmobile sprockets, the smell of diesel fumes heavy in the air every time they'd pass by.
This late in the day, the trail was quiet in both directions and I let Roxy off the lead to go explore and enjoy a bit of a run to keep warm. We'd almost made it to the frozen tadpole pond, our intended destination, when she started pulling up one of her paws, calling it quits so, in the falling twilight of dusk, we turned around and headed back towards home.
The air was getting chilly and the shadows had grown longer as we crunched along the track, Roxy limping slightly beside me, the forest around us swallowing the remaining daylight into its depth. The trail carved a bright line ahead as we approached the place where we'd started our walk, the streetlights already shining through the trees in the near distance. Almost home, I sighed a breath of relief.
That's when I made out the large, whitish shape of what certainly appeared to be a wolf by the side of the path not forty paces ahead, blocking my way. Damn, it flashed through my mind, the dog! I quickly unfurled the leash with shaking hands and, as calmly as I could manage, called her close before she had a chance to notice the huge canine and race off to say hello in her usual spunky, and rather offensive, manner. For once, I was glad that her vision had never been her best sense and unless something moved in the distance, she remained fairly oblivious to its existence.
I must have stood there for a couple of minutes, dog safely leashed, but at a momentary loss of what to do, torn between feelings of fear and awe. So close to home, turning back into a darkening forest to walk the long way around was something I even hesitated to consider. Roxy was already shivering as the temperature was steadfastly dropping towards the minus double digits, so there was nothing to do but keep moving ahead, hoping the wolf would grant us passage, even though a small dog must have seemed a tempting morsel after such a long, hard winter.
The wolf had not moved an inch as I considered my next steps, just sat there by the side of the path watching us calmly. I'd never come across one in the wild but, contrary to what some people later suggested, it definitely wasn't a coyote. I'd run into a couple of those over the years and would have preferred an encounter anytime, since loners usually showed a healthy dose of respect towards humans, quickly slinking into the bush when crossing paths.
The animal on the trail ahead - a male, I reckoned, judging by his impressive size - was a beautiful specimen . . . pelt luscious and multi-hued in shades of white, gray and brown, broad head held high as it regarded us with aloof curiosity. Despite the hard winter, it appeared healthy and well-fed, something I hoped would play in my dog's favour as I decided it was time to break the stalemate.
Straightening up to look as tall and imposing as possible, I started walking slowly but steadily towards the wolf. Stomping my boots noisily into the crunchy path and talking to Roxy in a deep, firm voice, I tried to appear dominant and in charge, not sure I'd be able to mask the trepidation that any canine could supposedly smell from a mile away.
Ten paces along, I stopped in my tracks as the wolf finally made his first move and gracefully took up position right in the center of the trail ahead, gazing intently towards the marshland through the thin sliver of forest bordering the track while throwing a couple of seemingly annoyed sideways glances in our direction. I kept stomping my feet in place and, with a last look, he graciously made way, disappearing at a leisurely gait into the woods towards the marsh.
Cautiously we moved by the spot where he'd passed from sight, peering into the gloom of the forest for any sign of movement, but all was dark and quiet and we hightailed it out of the woods towards the haven of the streetlights as fast as Roxy's limping would allow.
I didn't start shaking until we got home, though a hot bath soon drained the last tension left from the encounter, leaving in its stead a feeling of wonder and awe, as if I'd been granted the rare honour of coming face to face with my spirit animal.
About a month ago, I came across an article concerned with the massive wolf cull in British Columbia, supposedly perpetrated in an effort to protect the dwindling number of caribou in the province; a measure deeply at odds with all we know about predator-prey relationships.
Wolves play an integral part in maintaining strong, healthy herds by weeding out the sick, weak and old - whose survival would be short-lived either way - thus improving on the gene pool as well. But despite opposition from many conservation groups, the government is in its fifth year of wolf hunting and has even gone so far as to cull antlerless moose and calves to deprive the wolf packs of prey so as to further reduce their numbers.
The blame for the decline in caribou herds lays squarely on our own shoulders; overhunting and habitat destruction, industry, not to mention climate change, have clearly wreaked havoc on their numbers, and they're heading down the same path as the buffalo and countless other species. Yet, true to form, we do what we've always done regardless of all we know to the contrary: push the blame and sacrifice the scapegoat, pretending that will solve the issue so we can wash our hands of the mess we've created, over and over again.
We all grew up with myths and fairytales depicting wolves as ferocious killers, instilling an irrational fear that lingers even though ample evidence has taught us otherwise and wolves have provided humankind with its most loyal and lovable animal companions, in addition to being nature's way of maintaining the balance between the species.
Unjustly persecuted for centuries to the point of extinction in many areas around the globe, they have finally made a successful comeback with the concerted efforts of Wildlife Conservation Agencies, only to once again end up on the other side of the gun with trophy hunting now a thriving business all across Canada and the World.
The old excuses for the slaughter are stale by now; we know wolves generally avoid people and rarely ever attack unless they're cornered, infected with rabies or protecting their young, and there haven't been any reported human deaths by healthy wolves throughout the last century in North America.
Our obsession with killing predators for sport and bragging rights is a sad reflection of our communal human psychopathy and, short of a rancher defending his livestock or Conservation agents culling sick animals to protect humans and other wildlife, I see few justifiable reasons for this blood sport.
So, if you feel the urge to get out into nature and stalk wild animals, bring a camera, not a rifle and take pictures, not pelts. It's more courageous than hiding behind a deadly weapon, though a can of bear spray might still prove prudent.
In closing, a few wise words from a People whose experience with white settlers closely mirrors the fate of wolf, buffalo and caribou:
If you talk to the animals they will talk with you
and you will know each other.
If you do not talk to them you will not know them
and what you do not know, you will fear.
What one fears, one destroys.
- Chief Dan George, Tsleil-Waututh Nation
My gratitude to all our fabulous artists for breathing creative life into this edition.
Stay well, keep engaged and enjoy the Journal!
Presidential Pet Peeve
by Mat Del Papa
Among the many, many, MANY things I loathed about Donald Trump’s disaster of a ‘presidency’ was the disturbing fact, quickly glossed over by the fawning right-wing media, that the man never kept a pet while in power. That was the final nail in his political coffin and just one more reason why Trump, the first Oval Office occupant in more than 150 years not to own a single pet, was the least effective and most despised president in American history.
Love animals or hate them, even skeptics like myself admit they have keen, natural instincts. A dog can ‘read’ a person’s motivation faster than any psychotherapist. And dogs don’t like Donald Trump. What that says about his character, or lack thereof, is best left unwritten.
As a man finding himself without a pet in my home for the first time in over 40+ years, I am at a loss. Companionship, protection and pure affection - my old dog, Katie, did it all . . . and was cute too. Just by being around, she contributed to the mental and physical well-being of my entire household. Since her recent passing (at age 13), my life has seemed hollow. I cannot imagine how empty the myriad halls of the White House - a 6 storey, 132 room mansion - must have felt during Trump’s stay.
All but three presidents - Polk, A. Johnson, and Trump - kept a pet. Many had multiple. George Washington had more than a dozen dogs during his tenure; a donkey, two warhorses (from his time commanding the Continental army), a parrot, and five stallions. Many of America’s greatest leaders recognized the truth that, as James Cromwell said, “Pets are humanizing. They remind us we have an obligation and responsibility to preserve and nurture and care for all life.” Franklin Roosevelt and Richard Nixon both had their political careers saved by their affection for their dogs, Fala and Checkers respectably.
Most people share Alfred A. Montapert’s sentiment that "Animals are reliable, many full of love, true in their affections, predictable in their actions, grateful and loyal. Difficult standards for people to live up to." Sadly, few, especially in politics, even try to match the lofty example. Certainly, Donald Trump could have benefited from some of that unstinting companionship. As Anatole France wrote, “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened."
Fox News and other purveyors of ‘yellow journalism’ have been muckraking over Joe Biden’s dog, Major, crowing that he’s been a ‘bad boy’. So far, the gorgeous - and rambunctious - young rescue dog has bit two people and ‘messed’ in the hallowed halls. And yet, for all that, the German Shepherd is still preferable to the last president’s sorry, and constantly changing, excuses for not having a pet. And no, Lindsey Graham, widely ridiculed as Trump’s lapdog, doesn’t count.
Pet adoptions went through the roof during the pandemic, meaning millions of people have been exposed to the myriad joys an animal brings to their lives. Let’s hope they learn a thing or two from the experience. I did. And, even though losing a pet hurts, I wouldn’t trade a moment of my time with Katie.
(The Capreol Express, 2021)
by Roger Nash
For Pierre de la Morandiere,
East and West Lighthouses,
Killarney, Ontario, appointed 1880
In storms, the distant horizon, always
as unavoidable as a long anchor chain,
swung its snapped links and hit him close up
behind the knuckle-held telescope
at the blur of his face. The far-off
was his overwhelming focus. The close-by
– mug of black tea, rolled
baccy for a pipe – faded into foreground.
Not at front-stage, but invisibly
alert in a Light-House of a prompt-box,
prompting the boys, maudit! maudit!
to haul life-boats out.
A man cut from one roll
of salvaged rock-slashed cloth.
If you met him in the store, he’d greet you best
if you stood just a bit off. Move closer,
among unsinking, even-keeled shelves,
well-stocked, you’d get scuttled from his sight.
Backgrounds were his foregrounds:
Far-by is near-off.
An Island Risen in Fire
by Greg Patrick
A course more promising Than a wild dedication of yourselves To unpathed waters, undreamed
shores; most certain, To miseries enough: no hope to help you; But, as you shake off one, to take
another: Nothing so certain as your anchors; who Do their best office, if they can but stay you
Where you’ll be loth to be: besides, you know, Prosperity’s the very bond of love
Wreck of the Whaling Ship Dark Syren off of New Zealand, Mid-19th Century
Under gloomy skies, amidst the slowly sinking remains of a once-proud vessel, the last two crewmen to live through a violent shipwreck face each other. Men born on opposite sides of the world, yet fiercely driven by the common instinct to survive. A son of Maui, the last of a dying brotherhood of Koa Warriors, confronts a ruthless whaler hailing from the New England coast. The prize for the lone victor shall be the last longboat and enough rations to make it to the nearest island. If dislodged by his opponent into the icy waters, he would face the inevitable fate of being torn apart by the flesh-eating cyclone of sharks circling below the surface. Both grip rusted, viciously barbed weapons before commencing their last battle. The inevitable question haunting each man . . . How has it come to this?
Island of Maui - One Year Earlier
The solitary Koa warrior rested in contemplative vigil, standing motionless atop the lava rock formations ringing the threshold of the sea, the sultry maritime breeze lightly stirring the palms. Like magma cooling in the waves, he sought solace here in the aftermath of battle, remaining aloof from the celebratory feasting. He was given to brooding introspection, a naturally restless strategist rather than a braggart.
He shook himself free of the memories once again immersing him in red visions and drawing him back into the frenzy of battle . . . the wild anarchy of feather-plumed helms and slashing, shark-toothed clubs . . . ululating battle cries . . . the shock of blows on flesh, before cutting down one's enemy and feeling the warmth of blood splash from an eviscerating slash . . . the conch horns braying in retreat trailing off, leaving them victorious on battlegrounds strewn with the slain, their enemies' blood tide-pooling atop the undulating lava fields.
The palms swayed like dancers in their eternal hula. He watched in ever-humbled awe as torrents of magma, red-veined against the dark slopes of the volcano, flowed towards the sea, clouds of steam erupting where the molten rock touched upon the water's edge.
In the grander scheme, it all appeared a rather trivial victory. The gods were the ones who held true power over his people's lives, yet where were they now when a strange affliction ravaged his tribe?
The island was threatened by a rival chieftain of another shore, though that was not what vexed him. It was another enemy, an unseen one . . . a malady from far lands that inflicted death on old and young alike and that no warrior could hold at bay with spear or club. But the gods remained maddeningly elusive towards his people's prayers and sacrifices as they desperately pleaded for divine intervention.
There was no solace to be found here in solitude before the threshold of the sea. All that he'd fought for seemed as frail and vulnerable as a sandcastle before the rising waves. He kept pacing the shore like a caged lion, slashing impotently at the air, envisioning the malady as a tangible enemy . . . one he could drive into the ocean with the fighting arts of Lua, as he had done with so many enemy warriors that besieged their island.
"Gods hear me! Ancestors hear me!" he cried, yet only the sigh of the waves, breaking eternally upon the shore, answered with whispered mockery. It washed over sea turtles basking ashore, oblivious to human concerns. His attention was drawn to what seemed disembodied lights haunting the dark battlefield as human scavengers scoured the wounded and slain across the pellucid lava flats.
Turning away from what appeared a ritual dance of flame and shadow, he paused. Like a somnambulist, he was drawn to what seemed a pyromanced vision, a mirage that tantalized a lost seafarer's gaze granted form and face in a vision of beauty behind green emerald eyes. A cascade of raven hair flowed majestically from under a garland of fragrant island flowers, and an undulant sway of hips and eyes that were silence set to nocturne. Heart-caressing smile cast its spell like the stars over a dreamscape of waves breaking gently upon sandy shores. His only love . . . all that the bards sang of . . . Aia of Maui.
"I heard grievous tidings that you were slain." she greeted him. Her voice was melodious to his ear.
"Perhaps I was and the missionaries speak true of the angels." he smiled, the gloom departing from his soul like the sun chasing away the clouds after a storm. "No. Our storytellers have always sang of goddesses gracing this world, testing the hearts of mortals, and that is what you are to me."
And that had been his world, until the day he'd been press ganged aboard a passing whaler vessel desperate for more crew members, abducted for toil along the ship’s harrowing voyage.
His floating dungeon was the Dark Syren, an infamous ship known by the figurehead of a skeletal mermaid embracing a sailor upon her bow, and a captain of callous, sadistic temperament. Her arrival meant slaughter to the majestic beasts of the sea, leaving slain whales in her red wake, and he was shanghaied aboard her, with no recourse towards escape.
They ventured so far north in their hunt that his old warrior wounds ached in the harsh cold amid towering icebergs, far from the azure skies and cerulean waters of his home. The tyrannical captain reserved particular abuse for him, cursing him a 'clumsy heathen' and having him flogged for minor transgressions. Yet, ever the strategist, he maintained a façade of broken submission, biding his time to strike, like a dormant fire simmering below the earth's surface before erupting through a fissure in the ground.
By dwindling candlelight in the swaying hold of the ship, he took out the jaws of a butchered shark and painstakingly removed and bound the teeth to rim the sides of a short club. He scrimshawed the names of those who wronged him upon it, plotting mutiny in his mind, waiting . . . waiting, until the day the fates would converge to answer his prayers.
Skirting the Southern Isles of New Zealand in pursuit of a pod of humpback whales, a mortally wounded leviathan seemed determined to take down its slayers. Hopelessly snared by roped harpoons, it thrashed mightily as its wounds pumped blood into the sea, showering icy water over the crew giving chase. As the colossus collided with the side of the captain's longboat in its last death throes, the tyrant commandeering the helm lost his precarious balance and disappeared amidst the crimson waves. The whale’s final breath, a geyser of blood, erupted into the air, painting the ship's sails and figurehead red.
The captain's flailing limbs quickly attracted voracious attention from the frenzy of sharks that had followed in the wake of their hunt, already scavenging ravenously on the dying whale abandoned in the melee. He resurfaced once beside the longboat. The Koa warrior on rudder-duty met his tormentor's shocked, bewildered gaze a final time, then the captain's gargled scream was cut short as an enormous shark pulled him into the dark fathoms, his blood bubbling towards the water's surface out of the depths, sharks fighting over his dismembered limbs all the way down to his watery grave . . . the brutal lord of the Dark Syren was no more.
The pod of whales they'd been pursuing still lingered nearby on the surface, forming a protective ring around their calves. Despite the captain's untimely demise, his second-in-command, the ill-tempered bosun, was unwilling to cut his losses, stubbornly determined to again set out after the herd. As his longboat approached the pod, the whales' chorus of distressed calls beckoned to something from the deep . . .
An ominous cloud darkened the waters below. Like a black island rising, a massive bull whale broke the surface, gripping a giant squid in its gargantuan jaws, the prey's tentacles still thrashing. The bull's tough skin still bore the scars of past battles with rival whales and hunters. Old spears were embedded in its flank from whalers he had slain. The bull's angry eye locked on the whaling ship.
With powerful strokes of his tail, he came between the ship and his herd. He spouted as if snorting derisively, like a bull before charging, and submerged. From the deck of the Dark Syren, the rest of the crew watched aghast as the two longboats astern were capsized in swift succession in the wake of the behemoth's charge at the whaler. A volley of harpoons were cast desperately to hinder his advance.
"I got him! I got him!" one harpooner crowed.
A chorus of cheers rose from the deck . . . prematurely. The whale emerged in an awesome breech, casting its great shadow over the ship before falling in an arching, seismic wave as a final crescendo. They watched in awe, than horror, as the whale descended directly upon the deck. An inexorable force of nature crushing human conceit. Like a great fist pounding its frail victim, the vessel shattered explosively, wood fragments flying like shrapnel.
The whale passed under the surface, its eye looking up at them as its fluke delivered a final blow to the ship. Bodies mingled with debris trailing into the depths. Then, as the maelstrom subsided, it was over.
The bosun’s head abruptly broke the water’s surface gasping for air as he pulled himself onto a large fragment of the wreckage. Drifting atop the waves, one longboat remained with enough rations for a gambler's throw to the nearest island where he could hail a passing ship. Corpses buoyed facedown amid the flotsam. He callously hacked at the hands of drowning shipmates, as they threatened to swarm and capsize his precarious float, until they sank in a red froth beneath the waves. He smiled triumphantly and turned towards the lone boat only to see another figure suddenly arise revenant-like from the sea beside him. The Koa warrior.
The bosun's weapon-callused hands gripped the harpoon as a duelist would his sword. The Hawaiian drew first blood with an admonishing slash across his assailant's torso. His opponent was a master harpooner, the man's cast never erred, yet this duel would be decided in close fighting quarters.
“Gods of Sea and Sky accept this final sacrifice,” the Hawaiian whispered.
And the sea answered with hunger. Like red-gowned figures swirling in the tide, sharks moved cyclonically amidst the corpses and debris. The men almost lost their footing as the wreck was rammed accidentally by the exploratory bump of an enormous shark, one of many drawn to the carnage that had followed in the whaler's wake. The Hawaiian deftly regained his balance and evaded a harpoon slash, parried another, sparks flying, before his assailant stumbled back with a long streak of red bleeding through his shirt. The shark-tooth club had inflicted its first, grave strike. His opponent clutched his wound, staggering back.
The warrior pivoted quickly and pulled himself from the sinking flotsam onto the longboat that had drifted within reach, when he felt himself at once clutched desperately from behind. Abruptly, the grip relented and his assailant screamed in pain as a shark severed his arm in passing, serrated teeth effortlessly shearing through flesh and bone as the man was drawn beneath the waves with a last gasp shuddering through his body.
The Hawaiian pulled himself aboard the longboat and sank into exhausted, vision-haunted slumber. He awoke to a myriad of stars, the tides bearing him over the bioluminescent waves, the graceful forms of manta rays revealed beneath him amid glowing plankton. He did not trouble with the paddles, allowing the currents to bear him along as they wished. He closed his eyes into the sensation of floating in ghostly passage . . . like a dark melody, the eternal sigh of the waves swept his soul. It passed over the sunken wrecks of whaling ships, their torn sails swaying in the current like phantasmal banners. From down below, the quavering songs of whales echoed among the masts of sunken ships in eerie serenade, lit in spectral display by iridescent specks, haunting the dark fathoms and flaring in the crests of waves.
The tides bore him at last to a remote atoll. He awoke to the shrill cries of harrying shorebirds.
"Haere mai, brother," he heard a stranger's voice hail him. A small group of Maori seafarers aboard a sleek voyaging Waka invited him aboard. His rescue was celebrated with a Haka, the Māori's ceremonial feast and dance, at the nearest island where they'd set up camp along their journey, and he was treated with fine hospitality as their honoured guest. Yet he had made a vow to the gods, and himself, that would not let him linger long amongst them. Home beckoned . . .
A sea bird swept over the sapphire waters, catching the light and smile of the Koa warrior returning on a small trading frigate with a dolphin-escorted wake. He knew his way homeward by the nomad beacon of the stars, enshrined in the dark majesty of the night.
He envisioned her then in the dreamscape of moonlit waves. Aia, garlanded in a halo of island flowers, cascades of raven hair casting the sultry dark of night back in disdain in its flourish as her hips undulated in the hula, like the motions of waves beckoning to the mariner in a siren's nocturne matched only by the Shaharazadian spell cast in voluminous eyes of Endorian maleficence. A celestial light seemed enshrined in their bright depths, that of the navigator’s stars, beacons of radiance that guided them over the vast distances between the isles and the shark-hunted seas.
The trade ship's arrival was hailed by a conch horn sounding. Its throaty bray swept his soul . . . sea turtles looked on curiously as they passed below to bask in the sheltered coves.
Yet his dream proved elusive. Most of their homesteads had been burnt to a ruin. It was the white settlers’ remedy for the mysterious malady and, with it, his people had vanished. He fell to his knees before the edge of the sea, crying out in despair to the gods as he thus spotted the silhouette of a ship in the far distance, loaded with exiles heading for the Isle of Lepers. The sunset-touched waves passing in procession, like red-maned horses in review before a brooding lord. Outlined against the crimson twilight he made a vow.
If the gods demanded sacrifices, he cursed, he would serve their will.
Lahaina, Maui, Whaler’s Port
Tall-masted schooners were moored in the old harbor. He strode down the rain-swept streets of Lahaina jostled by the insatiable throngs of whalers from the grog shops, resounding with raucous, inebriated laughter as sailors made merry indulging and throwing their coin at all the things they'd been deprived of during long whaling voyages. They sang drunken shanties, swaying and brawling, jeering in passing at chastising missionaries confronting them at street corners.
The Hawaiian was garbed in a long whaler's coat and top hat. A cruelly barbed harpoon was balanced on his shoulder like a soldier marching with a rifle to battle. After several hours' search, he finally sighted his quarry and trailed him through the tide of brawlers, his eyes almost smoldering crimson by the gas-lit lamps, like a wolf on the heels of his prey.
He sighed deeply and gripped the harpoon as he observed his target enter the roughest tavern in town. Ignoring amicable invitations and challenges, he remained aloof, his eyes glaring over the untouched grog on the wooden table in front of him, vacant and distant, oblivious to all that transpired among the rowdy company . . . deceptively so. His attention was drawn to sailors laughing and wagering as they played a game of darts. He watched, transfixed, as the projectiles struck their aim again and again. He drained his tankard in one long draught and rose.
The brawny harpooner of the Dark Syren . . . the last of that crew to draw breath, the brute that had shanghaied him and condemned him to exile from his shore and love, who had survived his shipmates by jumping ship at Tahiti, making his way back on a merchantman . . . was almost within reach of his revenge.
The man's thick, tattooed arm slammed the cup down for attention. "A toast, me lads! A toast! To the crew of the Dark Syren . . ."
"May they sail the seas of hell forever!“ a dark voice cursed in challenge, cutting him off.
The harpooner turned at the voice from the shadows, even as the Hawaiian's barbed weapon struck his torso with such vengeful force that it impaled him and pinned him to the wall, the shaft quivering from impact. The once-gloating face sputtered blood as his assassin pulled down his cowl to reveal a fully tattooed face, war-painted with scenes of hunts and battles. The man shuddered spasmodically, lips vomiting red, mingling with his spilled rum.
There was shocked silence and their ranks parted ways for him as he approached, as hyenas would before a lion. Like a huntsman viewing a mounted trophy, the Hawaiian lingered in front of his kill. He pulled the harpoon free of the corpse, letting it thud to the floor. He swept past the stunned crowd, threw open the tavern doors and strode into the night, leaving a trail of red footprints in his wake.
“You there, halt!” The town's watchmen challenged his passing, yet their pursuit was easily thwarted as he merged into the jostling throng. The fiery sunset, so like the blood of a sacrifice bleeding fire into the sky, dwindled to a slash-like wound on the horizon.
Undercover of darkness, his canoe cast off back towards home, following the beacon of the stars. Returning to the remnants of his former village, he came across a corpulent missionary who had established himself on their former homesteads like the lord of a manor. The white devil viewed him with smug contempt, dismissing his inquiries as the babbling of an insolent heathen, and sent him on his way under threat of his guards.
Then one night, over his customary drink of wine while admiring the sunset from his porch, the man fell unconscious to a sharp blow to the temple.
The missionary awoke, disoriented, to throbbing pain and what sounded like incessant drumbeats. He was splayed out atop an altar of lava rock ringed with flickering torches, harshly illuminating Tiki idols that ventriloquized chanting. He whimpered at the sight of a masked figure clutching a dagger and wearing the fleshed-out head of a tusked wild boar, buzzing with flies.
"Are you . . . are you going to sacrifice me, heathen? God help me!” the man blubbered, quivering like a gelatinous mass.
"Your god is not going to help you. Speak! Where is she? Aia, the Chief's daughter."
"That insolent wench?" His ribs were cracked by a kick in response. He howled in agony. The drums' tempo quickened like the climax of a ritual. He finally confessed.
"When a gang came to capture savages for exile to the leper isle, they escaped and fled for the jungle of the mountain forest."
"That's all I wanted to know." The figure unmasked himself. He tossed some coins to a cloaked shape in the shadows and the drums ceased their pounding
"You! I've seen you before . . ." the missionary stammered.
"Fool!" he spat dismissively. He extinguished the torches and disappeared into the night.
Weeks later, overlooking a sea of clouds from the mountain's towering summit, he stood before her again. Their lips met in passionate embrace and, at long last, he felt the touch of the gods.
by Rebecca Kramer
Long and tall and thick and round
Congregate in silent Ohm
Wiser trees scarce can be found
Anywhere on earth
Soft and green and young and proud
Catching light along the ground
Livelier shrubs scarce can be found
Anywhere on earth
Red and moist and loose in mound
Dug by root like red blood hound
Richer soil scarce can be found
Anywhere on earth
Crooked gnarled rough and bound
Carved by ancients from the ground
Older roots scarce can be found
Anywhere on earth
Well-trained ears will hear the sound
Of growth un-tampered freedom bound
Sweeter songs scarce can be found
Anywhere on earth
Gourmet cooks will sniff around
Where gifts of oxygen abound
Purer air scarce can be found
Anywhere on earth
For trees that stand through Ages dark
Cathedral rich in stained-glass bark
The safest place is still a park
Anywhere on earth
A Many Splendour’d Thing
by John Jantunen
They was all looking for something to believe in.
His pa said otherwise it wouldn’t have worked. He said if their spirit was dead, the machine wouldn’t have made a damn bit of difference. That it would have been like trying to grow a mountain out of a fieldstone. Don’t matter, how much you watered it, it’d always just be a rock, that was just the way of things. Your ma at least proved that.
It gave him hope that nobody who came to their farm, after he’d built the machine, went away the same. Made him think that things weren’t really as bad as he’d thought and that gave him hope that maybe something good could still come out of the world. His son had his doubts, which is why he never used the machine himself, though he was as sorely tempted as anyone.
His father had started building it some months after mother took ill. After she couldn’t get out bed any more, couldn’t eat, couldn’t talk, couldn’t hardly lift a finger, after she stopped opening her eyes when the boy came in, though she hardly ever slept anymore. The man knew, then, that she’d given up hope and couldn’t face her son anymore, because the one thing she’d always told the boy was that he wasn’t to ever give up hope, no matter what happened.
He’d hardly left her bedside for three days.
Whenever she opened her eyes, he took up the bowl of broth sitting on the stand and dribbled spoonfuls of it between her lips, as dry and cracked and grey as ash. She never looked at him as he fed her, her eyes pulled to the corners of the room where the shadows on the walls looked like doorways, or to the window, its curtains clamped shut because he couldn’t stand the way the light made her seem parched and empty - some dried-up ancient thing that time had left there as a monument to its toil. He read to her from her mother’s Bible, and held her hand and wiped the drips that leaked from her eyes, trailing yellow streaks like sulphurous rain, and willed her to look at him. though she never would.
He slept kneeling on the floor with his head on the bed beside her. When he awoke, he lay there listening, waiting for the deep rasp of her breath, and was always surprised when he heard it. He made trips to the bathroom down the hall that felt like pilgrimages into a forgotten land and left Charlie to tend to her, telling the dog to keep a careful eye on her while he was gone, and Charlie, laying at the foot of the bed, would look up at him as if he couldn’t fathom why the boy kept his vigil when it was clear that his mistress wanted him to leave so she could get on with it.
And when he returned, the dog would look at him the same again and sometimes bark, telling him to go away, but then would wag his tail, when he scratched him behind the ears, and lick his wrist and whine and the boy would sit back in the chair he’d brought up from the kitchen, after his mother had first taken ill, and would take her hand again and hold it against his face to see if it had gone cold in his absence, but it never had.
On the third night, his father had come in and found the boy slumped on the floor, his head resting on the Bible and his thumb suckled in his mouth. He picked him up, he was as light as bones, and carried him to his room and laid him down on his bed and spoke not a word to him, although the whole time he was thinking about how much he loved the boy and, hoping against hope, that there’d be something left of him when his mother had passed.
The boy woke up in the dark and thought of a dream that he’d forgotten, one that he’d had many years ago and that he hadn’t remembered even then, but which now stood clear in his mind. He was standing in the middle of the intersection in town, where the street bows towards the clock tower, and there wasn’t a soul around and no sound and nothing at all except the smell of dust on asphalt turned up by rain, though the sky was clear and blue and the road dry and he couldn’t think of why that was, with the musk of rain so stark and the farm needing it so bad, the grass as dry as smoke, and the dirt in the fields like cinders, and the river that bordered the back of their property a snakeskin.
Standing there and waiting for the rains to come and knowing that they wouldn’t, that the time for rain was past and the town was already dead, and he was the only one who didn’t yet know it. More of a feeling than a dream and he chased it with memories of other dreams, but couldn’t find one that would make him feel any less than he did lying there in bed, waiting for a sound that would keep him from falling asleep again, the house as quiet as a tomb.
Sometime later, he heard footsteps on the stairs and thought that he must have been dreaming again, for it seemed to him that there was nothing left in the world that could have made them. He listened and the creaks grew louder and he counted them. There were fourteen and then it was quiet again and he waited for her to open his door, for he knew that she had died and was coming to say farewell.
His bedroom door opened and, at the last moment, he closed his eyes so that he wouldn’t see her, though in truth he wanted nothing more, and then the door closed again and he heard the door across the hallway from his close and heard the lock click.
He sat up and set his feet on the floor. It was cold on his bare soles and his big toe found a crack between the boards. He tried to wedge it inside though the crack was only a sliver, hardly big enough to fit in a nail, but he kept trying anyway until it seemed that he’d finally managed it, then drew his toe out and looked at it, thinking that it still looked the same when it should have become as thin as a blade of grass.
The room was dark, the night beyond the window even darker, and he wondered how it was he could see anything at all when not a murmur of light was in either. He told himself it was because he was dreaming and there was a logic in it all to itself. And then, out of this logic, there arose a melody, a faint trace of something familiar, and he tried to think of what it could have been, but it was beyond him. He looked at the wall and the ceiling and at the window again, then rubbed his toes together like he was trying to make a fire and stood up. He walked to the door, the floor under his feet so cold it felt like he was walking on ice, and he opened it and looked out into the hallway.
There was light coming from under his parents' door and the music was louder now so that he could hear it was a woman singing, and he listened to the words and tried to understand what they were saying but they were as foreign as emanations from the other side of the world. The woman was sad, that he could tell, and though he couldn’t divine the words behind the song he could also tell that she was trying to pretend that she wasn’t, trying so hard it seemed that she might burst from the wanting, and it pained the boy that she could want for something so bad and he wished for her to be quiet or to stop pretending, but she kept on at it until the boy thought there was no hope for her at all, that she would die singing this sad song and that the lie would have made her dying all that much the worse.
He reached for the door, knowing that it was locked even before his fingers found the knob, but twisted it anyway, then knelt in the light and rested his cheek against the frame. He fell asleep kneeling in the hall, listening to the lady sing, and dreamt the same dream he’d dreamt so long ago, except this time there was no town, there was only a valley between two hills. There was nothing but the wind running up through the tall grass on either slope to tell him that there was any life left in it at all and he knew that he was dreaming of the past, or perhaps of a time that was yet to come.
He awoke in his bed again, this time his room a monument to the light, the shadows so fragile on the walls that they seemed like a trick the sun had played on him while he slept. He rose and set his feet on the floor and tried to find the crack between the boards again, but it wasn’t there and he stood and found his shirt and his pants folded neatly beside his bed. He dressed and looked for his socks, but they weren’t on the floor and looked in the top drawer of his dresser, but it was empty and he tried to remember the last time he’d worn any but couldn’t.
He heard Charlie bark from outside and walked to the window and saw his father leading the mule from the barn and Charlie running alongside of him, barking and nipping at the mule’s legs. His father led the mule towards the field and the boy watched them until they were through the gate and his father had stopped, looking out at the rows and the clumps of dirt and everywhere between them, rocks that the winter had turned up, like he didn’t want to have anything to do with it.
The boy then watched him lead the mule to the old plough and bend to the rigging and watched Charlie jump at his father and his father shoo the dog away with a flick of his hand and watched Charlie snatch his glove off and set off into the field with his father running after.
He could have stood at the window and watched his father chasing Charlie all morning, but he’d seen it before, a long time ago. He knew how it’d end and he turned and walked to his door, wondering what other surprises the morning might have in store.
He stepped through the door and sucked at the air as he would have nibbled at a stalk of rhubarb, the tartness pinching his cheeks and making him want to spit. But this morning, the room smelled only of the fields beyond the open window, the breeze carrying on it a taste of spring, the musk of dead leaves and wet soil fresh from the thaw.
The door thudded against the wall, and his mother turned from looking out the window and saw him standing there and smiled and her face didn’t look so much like ashes anymore, it looked like wet sand, grey and wrinkled from the surf and speckles in it turning the light into stars. Her lips were thin and tight and her hair frayed and she held her hands out to him and he ran to her and took her hands in his and she pulled him into the bed and he lay there until he felt her breath trail off, making not so much as a whisper as she went still. He then wrapped her arms tightly about him, wedging her hands under his side, and lay there as she hardened against him so that, as evening fell and his father came into the room, he stood watching them, thinking that he’d have to break her arms if he wanted to get them apart.
The next morning they carried her to the orchard and took turns with the shovel until they’d dug a hole deep enough so that they wouldn’t have to think about the tree roots finding her, the boy worried they’d disturb her rest and she’d never find peace and the father worried that they'd take other liberties with his wife. They didn’t talk until the boy dropped back into the hole when it was already over his father’s head and then the father said to his son, It’s deep enough.
Yet the boy dug deeper still, filling bucket after bucket, until his father repeated what he’d said and the boy looked at his hands, dipped in mud and blistered and bleeding pus, then wrapped the bucket’s rope around his ankle and let his father pull him up, his arms too tired to climb out by himself.
Standing over the grave, the boy read from his mother’s Bible, read from Genesis and a few passages from Leviticus and three Psalms and one from Ezekiel that his grandmother had underlined and then held the Bible up to the wind and let it choose and read an entire page from the book of Matthew.
When he’d reached the end, he stopped mid-sentence and tossed the Bible into the hole, then turned his back and wept while his father pushed his mother into the grave. He pressed his eyes shut and thought of how she’d smiled at him less than a day ago and tried to firm the memory in his mind, but the image that came to him was of a photograph with flames curling the edges and he opened his eyes before the fire had taken her from him forever.
That night he slept beside her grave and didn’t dream at all.
When he awoke, he was lying under an old horse blanket, the rough fabric stiff with age, and the frost and his hair poked at his cheeks, frozen into stalagmites, and he lay there looking up at the morning sky, searching for a star that had escaped the advance of the day, but there weren’t any. He looked to the east and watched the sun laze across the yard and imagined that it consumed all that it touched, devouring the dirt path that led from the road and, in turn, then the house and Charlie’s dog house and the tire-swing tree, until finally it touched upon his boots protruding from beneath the blanket and he held his breath as if it would consume him too.
The light dazzled on the iced blanket and he heard a crack and thought that it was the blanket cracking with the thaw, but then heard Charlie bark and knew that it was the back door slamming shut. He closed his eyes and the dog came over and sniffed his cheek, then licked him on the lips and the past imparted its will on the boy.
He sat up and told the dog to shoo and pushed him away and wiped his mouth and opened his eyes. The dog barked at him and growled, trying to draw him into his game, but the boy ignored him and lay back down and closed his eyes again and waited for the sun to alight on his face.
His father was in the field when he arose.
Beads dripped down the boy’s forehead, cold like winter rain, and his throat hurt. He unzipped his pants and urinated without thought of finding cover. The stream was dark and smelled like horse piss and its steam rose from the ground as if he'd poked a hole through to some underground hot spring.
When he was done, he folded himself back into his pants and coughed phlegm and spit it onto the ground and looked at the globule for signs of blood, but there wasn’t any. Hunger gnawed at his belly and he scratched underneath the line of his jeans, his fingernails finding the grit of his pubis, and it felt like the gnawing in his belly was something outside of him, like a mosquito that hadn’t yet bit, and there was nothing he could do about it.
He thought of his bike and where he might have secreted it, as if his previous incarnation had been playing tricks, hiding it in the tall grass beside the well, or in the woodshed, maybe telling himself while he did it that it looked like rain, and laughing because the sky was clear and the air was still and because he knew that his present self wouldn’t remember any of it.
He circled the house, away from the fields and his father, and found his bike propped against the wall on the front porch next to his bow and quiver. He slung the bow over his back and the quiver on his shoulder, then pulled the bike down the steps and mounted it and rode it up the path.
When he made the road, he turned to the field and saw his father standing behind the plough, waving his straw hat. The boy waved back, then turned right, searching ahead for a clear line through the potholes. He rode along the ridges that tottered precariously between the pits, their insides lined with yellow mud and dappled with gravel.
Clouds made separate worlds in the road and fields, blotches of shadow that seemed to portend to something dire whenever he rode through one, the morning suddenly turning chill and a terrible gloom descending so that, when he came back into the sun, it was as if the world was remade and it always came as a surprise.
He rode past the fence guarding his father’s property from the encroaching forest, a bank of cedars giving way to a clutter of maples and aspen and elms and jack pines, and he reached out to swat the cat-tails that seemed to have petrified in the ditch, splintering their thin reeds, leaving sharp stalks and dust that settled on his arm suspended above his skin on a canopy of hair, blond and fine and curled, the same as on his head, hair he’d got from his mother.
A few feet ahead, the ditch gave way to a recess in the forest. On the far side was a metal box on a pole, the box’s mouth yawning open, and he grabbed at the last of the cat-tails and came away with it, the stalk shattered and frayed and wilting in his hand. He swung it hard. The thwack of the bob hitting the metal box sounded like a shot and he heard the sudden thrush of branches snapping and saw a grouse startle from the trees. He stopped his bike and unslung his bow and notched an arrow in it and turned it toward the forest on the far side of the road, but the grouse was gone. He chased it with the arrow, watching it poke a hole through the forest matte, and listened.
All was quiet. He slung the bow back on his shoulder and stood heavy on the pedals of his bicycle and rode on.
For the Coffin-makers
by Denis Stokes
In the dry season
there will be no worry
of wood rot, your wares
crafted and displayed
beside the red bricked projects
in the prosaic light of day.
This is the dry season.
As if facts will matter.
This Carlsberg truck could be
a Bedford box on wheels, glass
bones rattling us into garrulousness
and silence. Your furniture is rich
with a plush shining, no glut
of privilege here, no oystered
irritations, only the crass glory
of your craft - laminations, little
veneer of Mzuzu pinings and these
boxes almost oblonged for shoulders
and belonging while these years, your
work picks up
like the Ilala Ferry crossing no lake
but this the forgetting river, its lights
blood red, its vessel’s skin half
torn as the shirts, dresses of orphans
of Lilongwe, Ekwendeni, Itatu,
a vast grandmothering of earth even as
this earth leaves us praying for
no rain god, no propitiation
in the night fires cleansing earth of
hunger, fear, facts of life
and death which becomes life’s
story. In the last light in the eyes
of your children, in this market’s place -
this work from your hands.
The Education of Little Tree
Based on the Novel by Forrest Carter
1997, USA, PG, 1h 52min, Drama
Director: Richard Friedenberg
Starring: James Cromwell, Joseph Ashton, Tantoo Cardinal, Graham Greene
Ma lasted a year after Pa was gone. That's how I came to live with Granpa and Granma when I was five years old.
The kinfolks had raised some mortal fuss about it, according to Granma, after the funeral. There in the gullied backyard of our hillside shack, they had stood around in a group and thrashed it out proper as to where I was to go, while they divided up the painted bedstead and the table and chairs.
Granpa had not said anything. He stood back at the edge of the yard, on the fringe of the crowd, and Granma stood behind him. Granpa was half Cherokee and Granma full blood. He stood above the rest of the folks; tall, six-foot-four with his big, black hat and shiny black suit that was only worn to church and funerals. Granma had kept her eyes to the ground, but Granpa had looked at me, over the crowd, and so I had edged to him across the yard and held onto his leg and wouldn't turn lose even when they tried to take me away. -The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter
The book's introduction to what we simply call 'Little Tree' in our family always leaves a lump in my throat, such are the emotions it stirs up. The movie and the book it is based on are so tightly intertwined in my memory that, if there are any discrepancies between the two, I'm at a loss to keep them separate, so, in essence, this is a review about the film as well as the book.
Some movies improve greatly upon their base whilst some books outshine their celluloid counterparts but in this case it's a toss up since they seem to strangely complement each other, the cast and scenery of the film providing the perfect visual to its literary parent.
John and I came across this little gem during our almost decade-long sojourn in Vancouver while working at the Famous Players' Capitol 6 downtown. The Vancouver Center, its sister venue a block down Granville street, was a theater often showing small and independent releases, due to its more limited seating capacity, which is where "The Education of Little Tree" made a short, but ever so sweet, appearance on its marquee. Intrigued by the movie's story and its cast, we joined the - all of eight - other guests in the auditorium on another rainy West Coast afternoon.
The plot was fairly straightforward: Set during the 1930's in Tennessee, it tells the story of Little Tree, a young, part-Cherokee boy (Joseph Ashton) who, after the loss of his parents, barely avoids foster care, finding temporary refuge with his grandparents (James Cromwell & Tantoo Cardinal) in the wilderness of the Great Smokey Mountains where their ancestors escaped to from the Trail of Tears. In their care and with the help of their Cherokee friend Willow John (Graham Greene), the boy is taught, through nature, about his heritage as a Native American and learns the risky trade of moonshining.
This down-to-earth 'education' and the love he comes to know during his preciously short time in the mountain wilds become his rock - buffering him to some degree from the cruelty that lays in store when Indian Affairs agents finally manage to track him down and deliver him into the Residential School system. (I won't spoil the ending)
The film, with its stunning natural scenery, superbly chosen cast and deeply touching story proved to be the perfect antidote to a miserable Vancouver day, carrying us along through laughter and tears, moments of joy and heartfelt sadness, with a good dose of old-timey nostalgia adding its spice.
A few years later, we found the book that birthed the film at a yard sale, containing the following personal note: "Dear Dad, I hope you'll enjoy this as much as we all did. Love, . . ."
Well, our family certainly enjoyed it plenty over the years. This small book has travelled along on our frequent moves and we read it to our children when they were young, though we watched the movie with them first since it, for once, was a better visual guide than our own imagination could have conjured up.
Yet, despite our fondness for this film/book, I initially hesitated to review it for the magazine since there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the author, his right-winged past and the fact he falsely claimed it to be autobiographical. After a lot of back and forth, I decided the movie and the book could easily hold their own amongst the greats in film and literature and merited not to be censored, no matter the background story of its inception. The message is solid, beautifully rendered and, as Roger Ebert states in his enthusiastic review, "Anyone can find redemption." (*)
I sincerely hope, Forrest (aka Asa Earl) Carter did find his.
On Reading to My Son
by John Jantunen
I was still reading bedtime stories to my 11-year-old son (almost) every night. I suspect that I was in the minority. Whenever I mentioned this to parents of similarly aged children they spoke, often fervently, about the positive benefits of reading to one’s kids. But when I told them what books I was reading to Anyk, they rarely reciprocated and I was left to assume that they’d long since given up on this nightly ritual. Too many things to do in a day and all that. I understood, I did. And it’s not like I consciously decided to keep reading to him beyond a certain age. One book just kind of led to another and here we were.
When he was a toddler, Anyk was notoriously fussy about taking a bath and getting ready for bed, so I started making up stories to settle him. His favourites were always about little Petey’s adventures with his dad, a tow truck driver, who seemed to get up to no end of trouble. The tales had a decidedly calming effect and, afterwards, a couple of picture books were generally enough to lull him to sleep. I estimate that I read him over four thousand of these over the next few years and, when his attention span seemed to warrant it, I decided to make the transition to meatier fare.
We found almost the entire collected works of Roald Dahl at a yard sale, so I started with those. Then a friend recommended Travels Of Thelonious by Susan Schade. It’s the post-apocalyptic tale of a talking chipmunk who embarks on a quest to discover why some animals can speak while others cannot. It’s written half in prose and half in graphic novel and I have yet to encounter a better book to bridge the gap between pictures and words.
Harry-Potter mania was in full swing, so I read him those tomes next, thinking it’d give him a leg up on the other seven-year-olds in the schoolyard. While neither of us succumbed to the hysteria surrounding the boy wizard, it did, at least, provide a valuable lesson in what happens when an author stops editing their work before it’s done (I can still hear his screams of “Make them stop talking, please, make them stop!”), so I read him The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings to show him what happened when an author does not.
From there it was a quick trip to Narnia. By the time we’d finished that, I’d written a children’s novel of my own because it didn’t seem fair that I made up all those stories for Anyk and none for his younger brother, Kai. I read them The Secret Way together and count hearing them laugh at the funny bits and seeing them scurry under the covers during the scary parts as some of my most satisfying moments as a writer.
Another friend suggested Cornelia Funke's The Thief Lord. Anyk really enjoyed it, he considers it a personal favourite to this day, so I tried reading him Inkheart. Its surprisingly clumsy prose befuddled my tongue though and, after a hundred or so pages, I told him he was old enough to finish it on his own. I then made a run at A Series Of Unfortunate Events, but found that its casual disregard for human life was at odds with the boy I was trying to raise. Midway through the third, I laid it aside.
I perused my bookshelf for something that put death in its proper place and came across Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (which does that and then some). It was a hard sell to my partner, Tanja. After promising her that, if it gave him nightmares, I’d be the one getting up to calm him down, she grudgingly relented as she often does when she knows that time will out the error of my ways.
He had just turned nine when we started reading it, so he wasn’t much older than the boy following his father through a land reduced to ash, all the while trying to keep the flame alive between them. The scene where they come across the people in the basement caused him a couple of sleepless nights but no more than the ones I’d had when I was five and, during our church Christmas party, some older kids locked me in a dark room in our minister’s basement and forced me to watch Revenge of the Vampire.
“And look at how you turned out,” Tanja smirked, when I told her as much.
Me, I suspect he’ll be just fine.
After reading him McCarthy, there was no going back and I decided that, from then on, I’d only read him authors of a similar merit. So we read To Kill a Mockingbird, which I’ve always argued is best when paired with Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man. I was worried that the latter would stretch his patience too far and settled for a YA version of Solomon Northup’s 12 Years A Slave.
The Education Of Little Tree seemed a natural progression. I was a big fan of the movie but had never read the book and, the controversy surrounding Forrest Carter’s alleged involvement with the KKK notwithstanding, I can’t imagine a better story for a father to read to his son.
We followed that up with Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories, an anthology of Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Orwell’s Animal Farm, Steinbeck’s swashbuckling tale Cup of Gold and White Fang by Jack London.
Michael Holmes, ECW’s senior editor, had gifted me a copy of Idaho Winter and we breezed through Tony Burgess’s wonderfully dark and surreal take on the perils of bullying.
An article in Harper’s magazine about America’s waning love affair with Marjorie Rawlings' The Yearling intrigued me enough that I tracked down a copy at a local thrift shop. Both of us quickly succumbed to its simple charms, and I count the scene where the boy accompanies his father to survey the damage inflicted upon their island refuge by a hurricane as among the most harrowing that I have ever read.
Having expired the potentials on my own bookshelf, I switched to Tanja’s. It was heavy on the German authors (she is after all Deutsch) and it wasn’t long before I’d convinced myself that Anyk was old enough for a little Herman Hesse. In my younger days, Narziss and Goldmund had been a personal favourite but Anyk wasn’t a fan (not in the least), though all of his moaning and complaining was worth it, if only to rediscover this passage:
Master Nicholas had shown him where [the settled life of a carver] led a man. It led to a craftsman’s fame, to money and a dull, snug life; to a withering and stunting of that essence by which alone the secret yields itself up. It led to carving petty, costly toys for every rich council house and altar, and neatly lacquered cherubs, gilded at four thalers the piece.
So, at least I could say he’d been warned.
Midway through it, a local writer I’d recently met and who was about to embark on a similar journey with his 18-month-old son, recommended H.G. Wells’s The Island of Doctor Moreau. I didn’t have a copy of that but I did have The Time Machine. While I enjoyed it immensely, it was a little slow for Anyk’s taste and I couldn't help thinking that he’d have been better served by the other. Maybe we'd read it next, I hadn’t yet decided. Whatever it was, I knew we hadn’t many left, so I'd better make sure it was a good one. *
*It was The Old Man and the Sea
Roger Nash - Poetry
Chris Nash - Photography
by Roger Nash
a full autumn moon
wearing ear muffs and longjohns
of moth-smelling clouds
snow geese fly due south
before the factory whistle
little time to waste
the wind blows leaves where?
to no special place nowhere
a red fox rolls there
the scent of ripe plums
haloes branches with sunlight
yes even at night
fog every morning
only my hound-dog’s loud bark
comes when I call her
fields of golden rod
the sun now just out of work
flowers cast their own light
cricket sounds slowing
time needs winding every day
tick-tock-tick time stops
the world breaking down?
two chipmunks meet on one wire
wind blows down more nuts
Not A Snowball’s Chance In
H-E-Double Hockey Sticks
by Matthew Del Papa
They were the best Peewee hockey team in Canada. We . . . weren’t.
That’s pretty much all I got out of the pre-game PA announcements. Oh sure, there was more to it, the organizers didn’t delay the tournament’s opening just to boast. They were genuinely proud of the local team - and rightly so.
We didn’t care. Didn’t care how good they were or even that they’d been selected to travel to Europe and represent Canada. We’d just driven over two hundred kilometers, through a snowstorm no less, and all we wanted was to play hockey.
And eventually, after each member of their team was individually announced - including all five coaches, three trainers, and two managers - and the ceremonial face-off held, complete with posing for commemorative photographs, we did. The puck dropped and ‘the best Peewee hockey team in Canada’ didn’t know what hit‘em. I watched it all from my usual spot behind the glass, wheelchair parked as close to the ice as I could get.
It was beautiful. Every guy on our team played his absolute best. The passes were crisp, the shots accurate, and the body checks crushing. My brother even scored the first goal - a seeing-eye wrist shot from just over the blue line. I swear I nearly went hoarse from all the cheering. Needless to say, the best Peewee Hockey team in Canada didn’t take it all that well. The game got ‘chippy’ in the third period.
Not that we minded. We’d put it out of reach by then, five or six to one, and we were from Northern Ontario - hard-nosed hockey is what we liked best. Still, when the game was over, our guys left the animosity on the ice. Too bad the other team didn't.
They caught us outside our hotel the next morning. We were in the midst of a heated game of parking- lot road hockey. I was in net - my wheelchair might keep me off the ice but, being big and wide, it proved an advantage at stopping frozen tennis balls - and saw them first.
“Uh, guys,” I called, nervously. Sixteen unhappy looking pre-teens (I counted) marched up to us. “Coach says we got to get our pride back,” one said. “You can’t embarrass us like that. Not in our own arena,” said another. Our guys weren’t about to stand for that. Three of the tougher players on our team found their way to the front.
“What are you going to do about it?” our captain, Gary, asked as the others lined up behind him. Things could have gotten ugly. They probably would have too - if I hadn’t stopped it. Or rather the snowball I threw stopped it.
I’ll admit right now that it wasn’t my best snowball. I didn’t take the time to pack it tight or choose the stickiest snow. But, for all that, it still exploded on contact, spraying across the chest of their leader in the most distracting way possible.
The snowball fight that followed was, quite simply, the stuff of legends. Before I knew what was going on, bodies were running and diving, parked cars became cover, and foul language flew back and forth with each throw.
I, thanks to my wheelchair, couldn’t keep up. The battle moved past me growing more intense with every passing minute. Before long, it had escalated into a snowball war.
The hotel manager came running out, arms waving and shouting, “No, no . . . stop this!” but was driven back inside by a two-sided barrage. Things had gone past the point of no return. It would take more than a poorly dressed morning manager to end the hostilities.
Sitting there in my wheelchair I recognized a sad truth - the snowball fight wouldn’t stop until someone got hurt . . . and maybe not even then.
That’s when the police arrived.
None of us had heard the sirens approach. The first we knew of their presence was when the squad car drove in, lights flashing, and stopped between the two warring factions. A few last snowballs sailed, but even those half-hearted throws stopped when the uniformed officer got out and, glaring at everyone equally, said, “What’s going on here?” It wasn’t a question.
The home team smiled - cocky smiles. They clearly figured that we’d get the blame. We were out-of-towners and they were ‘the best Peewee hockey team in Canada’. It was a no-brainer that the local police would take their side. I, far enough back to avoid official notice, reached the same conclusion. Something had to be done. But what?
Once again, a snowball averted disaster . . . for us. Another hurried throw struck its mark. I hit the cop square in the back of the head, knocking his furred cap clean off.
He turned in the direction of the throw and, frowning, demanded, “Who did that?” Sitting there, looking harmless in my wheelchair, I put on the most innocent expression I could manage and pointed - right at 'the best Peewee hockey team in Canada’.The police officer followed my finger and turned on the locals.
“All right boys,” he frowned. “Time to go talk to your coach.”
In the end, we were asked to leave town. The police escort seemed overkill. Bad enough we forfeited our chance at winning the tournament, but to be treated like criminals? That hurt. Needless to say, the bus ride home proved uncomfortably quiet.
As to ‘the best Peewee hockey team in Canada’? They didn’t end up going to Europe after all. Too many players were stuck in their rooms, grounded.
The View From Above,
by Katerina Fretwell
The usefulness ... of aerial views ... the viewer absorbs and then recognizes the information, a move from the unfamiliar to the familiar.
Anthropocene, Burtynsky, Baichwal, de Pencier,
William Garnett's 1949 photos of L.A.,
smothered in endless suburban tracts,
remind me of my old neighbourhood's
interchangeable streets and split-levels,
each sporting a sapling 'welcome mat'.
It took time to straighten my bearings.
Postwar Dream Dwellings showcased
Frigidaire, coal chute and wringer-washer.
No one told fox, lynx, raccoon and bear:
Better move elsewhere! Ansel Adams and
Nancy Newhall's Sixties photo book,
This is the American Earth, outlines
poisoned air and water, clogged cities
and rivers; hills, woods, and fields stripped;
and projects-turned-slums. Fertile land masses
bow down to almighty cement and fossil fuel.
Let's re-theme this North American Dream.
Shady the Shadfly
by Rebecca Kramer
Every year during the summer, North Bay has a shadfly season. Billions of moth-like, winged creatures hang onto store windows so heavily, workers have to hose them down. Now, shadflies live only one day, so every year I like to spend time with one shadfly to think about what I am doing with my days. What would I fill my last day with?
Shady presented himself to me close to the end of his life cycle, slowing his pace on my kitchen floor. I saw he was in agony, shaking and writhing; terrified of his own death it seemed. So, I propped up my index finger on the ground and he rested his wings heavily on it. He continued shaking a few more moments but then, suddenly, bounced off of my finger into a standing position; and he began to fly for me. His wings beat as fast as the wings of a hummingbird. He lifted his shoulders to and fro like a heron slowing itself to land on a piece of driftwood, and then like a duck that takes off from out of the water into the air. He even tried new ways of flying and became so excited, he did more and more tricks. What joy ignited in this little one!
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. He was so beautiful that I started to cry because I knew he was dying and I knew that he knew it too. And yet, he danced merrily to his grave, showing off what his little body had been capable of doing while he was in his short prime. Then he slowed, now moving smoothly. I petted his wings and back and then I knelt down and kissed him goodbye. He died. I took this awesome picture of him.
A dead shadfly has its wings together, lying on its side in a fetal position. Shady is standing upright and his wings are comfortably stretched out. He looks alive. He died the happiest shadfly in North Bay that night because he did not die alone.
What did I learn?
It is more important to revive the spirit of another in their last moments than at any other point in their lifetime.
Dumpster Protest (Tanja Rabe)
From Rachel Carson and David Suzuki to Greta Thunberg
by Nasreen Pejvack
In my latest essay I suggested the following:
“We shouldn’t worry that our world will end with a pandemic, or as a result of climate change, or with nuclear bombs . . . no, the world will end because of our ignorance that has allowed all of the above to threaten us in the first place. It is our ignorance that won’t allow us to learn from past mistakes, but instead keep repeating them.”
If I brought up these issues in word or print, some people became irate or even personally offended, arguing: “I am intelligent, my children are intelligent, we are already aware of what is happening.”
Yet, if we are truly aware, then why do we find ourselves in this distressing and catastrophic situation right now? These are the same people who slow down movements of change, as they do not like to be subjected to hard truths. Well, my kind and sweet readers, our unconcerned, oblivious lives are the very reason for all our troubles at this time, and we are beginning to lose our grip on the 'Climate Change' dilemma that is imperiling our planetary ecosystem.
For decades now, scientists in many fields have researched and chronicled how we are destroying our only habitat and home, but few people have paid serious attention to their findings and we haven't changed our way of life, nor sufficiently challenged our governments to put a break on the polluting processes of creating, extracting, and utilizing the materials we exploit to support our lifestyles and to work towards greater sustainability.
Many would argue: “I am consciously recycling, composting and much more, so why is that not enough?” Well, for one thing, most human-made items do not get recycled or reused, but are simply tossed thoughtlessly into our environment. Another issue is that the methods of extracting raw materials and manufacturing goods causes severe harm by releasing hazardous, chemical discharges into our soil, air and water. And most of our planet's polluters are fossil fuel companies and big corporations.
Then there are wars and territorial conflicts to consider, especially in areas with rich resources, fueled by the economic ambitions and arms-trade profiteering of wealthy nations, particularly Russia and the USA. Just because, at this time in history, there are no major conflicts in Europe or North America, does not mean the world is at peace.
Although we always talk about such issues as greenhouse gases and factory pollution, we don’t pay enough attention to how much the activities of war cause environmental destruction. It’s important to know how dangerous many weapons are, how they are produced, how they kill large numbers of civilians, and how deadly they are to our ecosystems. (1) And just because all of this is happening in Africa or the Middle East, doesn't mean these issues aren't affecting us. This is one planet, with oceans, land and air connecting us all. (2)
For a long time now, our scientists, activists, and environmentalists have been analyzing our climate, trying to make scientific sense of drastic changes in weather patterns affecting more severe droughts, forest fires growing in size and frequency, and increased famine.
Back in the late 1950s and 60s, Rachel Carson, an American biologist specializing in the fields of environmental pollution and the natural history of the oceans, realized that disasters were coming our way and, in 1962, published her findings in her now highly acclaimed book Silent Spring. Her research well documented the harmful and damaging effects of pesticides such as DDT on our environment and, hence, on our own lives. She explained how arbitrary use of pesticides and other modern chemicals contaminated our water and land, doing irreparable harm to animal species in their natural habitats.
Ms. Carson’s book was one of the most influential of her time for describing the effects of chemicals on our environment, including their negative effects on human health, and was instrumental in the rise of environmental movements during the 1960s.
Then we have David Suzuki's tireless efforts to educate people in regard to our modern way of life and the choices we make which have such a destructive impact on our habitat. I remember The Nature of Things, which began airing on the CBC in 1960, with Suzuki taking over as host in 1979. Its poignant, and informative, episodes enlightened many and, as a young woman, I remember avidly watching as often as I could.
He has long been an outspoken advocate for the environment, and is still keenly and diligently working at finding ways to help us balance our lifestyles with respect for the natural world. He also has been an active and persuasive spokesperson regarding climate change, from the 1970s to today, and credits Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring for changing his life.
Alongside Suzuki, a new wave of passionate activists began to vocalize concerns about our home planet and the effects created by greenhouse gas emissions, which was termed “Global Warming” by geoscientist Wallace Broecker in 1975. After that, it took years before the issue finally made it into the mainstream, with the rise of Earth Day activities in the 1970s and 1980s being a big part of that effort.
By 1990, Earth Day had gone global and summits and gatherings began to focus on concerns about the worsening effects human activities were having on our environment. By 2000, Earth Day was recognized in 181 countries, but the question today remains: What has truly changed? Do we see or feel any indications of improvements?
No, we have only seen things getting progressively worse. Since the 1980s, the world has become increasingly aware of extreme heat and drought events, with many people on the planet suffering their devastating effects. Since 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has worked to provide data to governments so they can implement policies to stop us from going further down the road to disaster yet, even with this agency in place, here we are, in 2021, still heading at a now frightening pace towards catastrophe, with the consequences of our inaction threatening to become entirely irreversible.
In 1992, the UN held a conference on sustainable development at the Rio Earth Summit, with recommendations internationally approved by 178 countries committing to establish principles for reduced carbon dioxide emissions and increased protections for ecosystems. It was a hopeful sign that environmental issues were being considered for the first time alongside the economy and international development.
Then, in 1997, world leaders gathered in Kyoto, Japan, where they crafted an agreement to encourage the reduction of greenhouse gases. Developed countries made promises to lower emissions by only 5%, but even that small request could not be accepted by the US Senate, which instantly announced that they would not endorse the treaty.
Though these summits generated hope that the world might take action on climate change, it soon became evident that countries around the world weren’t taking their pledges seriously, with many simply ignoring agreements or implementing weak window-dressing policies. With the turn of the century, people increasingly demonstrated to demand action on climate policies as citizens across the world became disillusioned with their political leaders as agents of real change. From the early 2000s to today, we have had the hottest summers ever recorded in human history, especially during the current year. Yet fossil fuel consumption and other environmental perpetrators are soaring higher than ever.
People fed up with broken promises, neglect and inactions of governments are now joining together internationally and have established such grassroots and non-profit organizations, such as 350.org and Fossil Free, to provide a forum for the earth's population to get involved globally and challenge the excessive pollution caused by the world’s greedy and power-hungry elites. As a result, over the last couple of decades, the pressures, protests, and uprisings have increased people's awareness and helped shrink investments in fossil fuels by $11 trillion. With movements such as these, we have the potential for our global ecosystem to heal and thrive again.
Unfortunately though, catastrophes and calamities continue to devastate many parts of our planet, harming the livelihoods of inhabitants in affected areas. For instance, the steady rise of sea levels endangers coastal communities all around the globe. These kinds of effects are the consequences of our abuse of the planet by taking it for granted. On the positive side, people are beginning to learn, understand and feel firsthand the upheavals facing them and are, therefore, organizing and demanding change.
In May 2018, Extinction Rebellion was launched in London, England. They began organizing actions to bring complacent daily life in London to a halt. The beauty of it is that their style of protest has caught on, and Extinction Rebellion has now established chapters in about 70 countries around the world.
That same year, we witnessed a young Swedish girl named Greta Thunberg going on strike to protest the inaction of governments on our climate crisis. This young lady bravely took a stand and told leaders around the world to grow up and take immediate action on climate. Her courage and passionate concern, along with her strong and sophisticated speeches, have shaken the world and encouraged a new movement among our younger generation fighting to preserve a livable future.
Is there hope for us with these movements? Who truly knows, but with so many strong activist groups supporting one another, we may get somewhere. We must consciously work together and try harder, from the small stuff such as recycling and composting, to the big stuff such as large-scale protesting and challenging government policies. Even if it feels like little progress is being made with civilization's destructive beasts such as fossil-fuel dominance or the toxic waste of plastics, industrial chemicals and weapons of war still out there ravaging our home, we cannot give up the fight.
I, for one, am looking forward to learning more, to seeing increasing recognition of the serious and dangerous situation we are facing at this point in history, and to forging links with each other all across the world to work at righting all these wrongs.
Howling For Life
by Nasreen Pejvack
The moon facing me, gazing at me, dazzling me,
the moon and I were part of a mass,
within a huge ring of multitudes.
Birthing from the mass
began to shape and engage us in reactions,
movements of dust and rock weaved about the gloom,
I was born in my cradle, in a horde of entities,
the life I had was darkness, cold,
surrounded by matters I didn’t know,
that was all out there,
Collisions here and there,
we expanded, shifted and moved about,
that was all out there.
I desired to be what I am today
different from that mayhem,
longing to produce life, grow and transform,
darkness and cold was out there,
Eventually, clusters of us alienated from Mother Bedlam,
fell into this magnificent order,
we initiated our own loop of events,
force of our Sun shaped us,
began a new harmonization.
Magnum opus, the Sun, pulled and pushed us into order,
we lined up to form, and danced riotously ever since
we commenced a new order.
Tossed into the warmth of our magnificent Sun,
gave me the heat I needed,
hot and boiling to the core,
I spat out blood for years, and years
torrential downpour for thousands more
only to cool it down for new life to begin,
time, a drip of eternity,
yet, I was so full of hope,
I desired entities that would help it grow,
they would make it more beautiful.
It took me millions of years to cultivate water,
forest, and air to breathe,
a vast blue ocean nurtured the first life,
hosted all kinds of beings in its heart,
forests gave more breathing room,
became home to even more lives.
With shaking, trembling and quaking on my surface,
I developed splendid mountains.
My rivers flowed from them, joined oceans,
life thrived all over my skin
and all manner of creatures helped it grow.
The birds flew about and spread seeds,
vast diverse animals grew
learning and evolving.
In due course,
along came my evolved humanoid.
It took me a long time to enliven this ball of lava,
my resplendent chest became an absolute loveliness,
yet in such a brief time, my human ruined it all,
my sapiens grew to be the smartest of my children,
only to have the most destructive natures.
Some of my children became the thinkers,
learned from past mistakes, thrived for change
others developed cities, monuments,
science fought viruses, traveled outer space
though most of my broods grew to be:
selfish, arrogant, and clueless,
catering to wars and conflicts.
It took me billions of years to change and re-arrange,
give them a taste of beauty,
breezes through singing forests,
depth of blue sea and its vast life,
peaks of mountains, and the running rivers,
so they have stories to tell, and poems to write.
Except, ever since my children grew smarter,
they created all kinds of killing kits,
my face, my chest, my belly...
became a battle ground
dominance fell into the hands of greed,
billions of feet stamping on me,
thousands of drills piercing me,
craters in my chest,
as bombs are tossed about
destroying everything I built,
killing so many of my children,
ravaging my vegetation,
they began a chain of destruction of all,
greeneries, life in my oceans
extracting any treasures in my belly
anything to feed their egos
and I thought they were the smartest of all my beings,
my little humanoids, the sapiens.
Question yourselves my children,
do you think you are blameless?
Some of you err by deliberate choices,
some are weak or ignorant or cynical,
some only value their own ideas,
some the idols of greed in the temples,
some thrive with adventurous souls, for change.
they have segmented me with many borders
borders created wars and hatred
fighting for a bigger piece of me
killing for land to increase wealth
As treasures found in my heart,
my surface, my other creations
plunged into the abyss of suffering,
more greed, thereafter, more wars
even wars about who is better.
If I am the mother of all, I remember well,
amongst my creatures, those who roam my forests,
climb my mountains and pass through my oceans,
fly across and around me,
I only sprouted one human race.
Yet some think they are different and superior,
aren’t they oblivious to their own ignorance?
Though I believe in some of my humans,
the ones that know the mistakes made,
the ones who want change, and know how to change,
yet, the struggle is too hard.
Remember my children:
I have given life,
I rained-down on my bare hot surface,
flourished life, made it possible to grow,
I gave you all you needed,
But all is evaporating in madness, darkness,
hunger and wars you have created,
pain and suffering you brought upon each other.
Yet, none see their own fault,
none see they are the cause of such problems.
Well my children:
the moon is still facing me, gazing at me, dazzling me
I am still part of the same mass
I was a lava rock, I will survive
I will surely grow life again and flourish my bare chest
but the question is:
Will you be there?
The Hermit of Africville
The Life of Eddie Carvery
by Jon Tattrie
Pottersfield Press, Biography, 2010, 206 pages
Review by John Jantunen
I’ve been thinking a lot lately of something a character in an otherwise long-forgotten movie said his father once told him. He said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that one could sit on a bench in any city in the world and everyone you would ever need to meet would eventually wander past. For the longest time, I thought the father was speaking of serendipity; that it didn’t matter where you were, people who needed to meet would eventually find each other, regardless of what paths their lives had otherwise taken.
It’s a comforting thought for a novelist whose books often rely on the right people coming together at the right moment but, of late, I’ve been wondering if maybe I’ve been mistaken. Perhaps what the father really meant was that the only people you’d ever need to meet have always been right there in front of us - any of us - all along. Not a very popular notion in this day and age, of course, where our 'connectivity' has diminished the importance mere proximity would otherwise play in our 'social' lives.
Perhaps paradoxically, one of the more pressing reasons that we relocated our family to Northern Ontario for three years stemmed from a desire to test the hypothesis that it doesn’t matter where we lived, all the people I’d ever need to populate my fictions would be there too. After writing three books inhabited by the folks we met in Capreol, Sudbury and North Bay, most of whom were our neighbours or who lived within walking distance or a short drive, I can honestly report that a wealth of eminently interesting characters abounds regardless of locale.
As a novelist dedicated to writing 'local' fiction - as a reviewer rather derisively labelled one of my books because it took place in a lightly fictionalized Muskoka - this has been a more comforting or, I should say, liberating idea for me than could possibly be derived from any number of even the most serendipitous of encounters, though, as I further reflected, I couldn’t help but muse that, as a reader, it’s a lesson I’d already learned in spades.
For most of my adult life, 'financial insecurity' has precluded me from purchasing new books, so the vast majority of the books lining the shelves in my den and living room come from local yard sales and thrift shops (or, increasingly, through barter with other writers).
Naturally, this limits what books I have within easy reach, but then the thrill of stumbling upon one of those all-too-rare finds, and then buying it for a dollar or less, easily makes up for any perceived gaps in my modest collection in a way that no amount of browsing on Amazon or eBay ever could.
During the pandemic, yard sales were, of course, cancelled and (still) not being able to try clothes on has limited the appeal thrift stores once held for us. So it’s been a great boon to me, as a reader, that we moved into a city - Kingston - which, as far as I can tell, might just hold the national record for highest number of book boxes per capita. In our downtown neighbourhood alone, we are within walking distance of at least a dozen 'free little libraries' and it’s become our habit to spend a few leisurely moments browsing through whichever one we pass by on our daily strolls.
Naturally, the lion’s share of the books are more suited to mainstream tastes than my own, and while the preponderance of what I call 'shitlit' frequently provides a window into the shallow reading habits of our neighbours, it’s also meant that when one does stumble upon that rare book of value it’s truly a cause for celebration.
So it was a good day indeed when I caught sight of the spine of what I’d shortly discover was a first edition hardcover of John Steinbeck’s In Dubious Battle peering back at me through a book box’s window. Such a find, naturally, merited closer scrutiny of the other books on offer and so it was that I also picked up I’ll Take You There: Mavis Staples, The Staple Singers, and the Music That Shaped The Civil Rights Era - the Mavis Staples Ry Cooder-produced album We’ll Never Turn Back has been a perennial favorite in our household since its 2007 release - and, most fortuitously, The Hermit of Africville by Halifax journalist Jon Tattrie.
In our second issue of Cannery Row Magazine, I wrote about our experiences in Guysborough County - home to the country’s last segregated school as well as to Sunnyville and Lincolnville, two of Canada’s oldest Black settlements - so I won’t belabour the point here, except to say that, while attending a recent Spring Magazine book club meeting for Robyn Maynard’s Policing Black Lives on Zoom, a nephew of Nova Scotia civil rights activist Rocky Jones referred to Guysborough as a 'sundowner community' - meaning it wasn’t safe for the county’s Black residents to go out after dark.
Given the decided lack of literature concerning this 'story seldom told', I’m always on the look-out for any book that might fill in a few of the more gaping holes which, in my mind anyway, have made our nation’s prevailing narrative into the equivalent of a mouldy, old piece of Swiss cheese.
When I got home, I put The Hermit Of Africville on top of my 'to read' pile where it languished for some time while I finished the three or four books I generally have on the go. The last of these was The Brothers Karamazov, bought at a student yard sale in Guelph for a quarter some five years previous.
On the surface, Dostoevsky's classic and Tattrie’s account of Eddie Carvery might not seem to have much in common, the latter relating the story of a man who’s been waging a half-century long battle to reclaim his grandmother’s property after her house, and all of Africville, was bulldozed by Halifax city officials under the guise of 'urban renewal' in the 1960s. Yet, as I read on, my novelist’s propensity for drawing connections between even the most disparate people, places and things began to foment a clear parallel.
For those who haven’t read The Brother’s Karamazov, the book ostensibly concerns the murder of the titular characters’ father and the resulting trial in which Dmitri, the eldest brother, is ultimately convicted of the crime. And while that’s a suitably compelling story, it was a 'lesser', parallel narrative within the book to which my thoughts most often returned. It begins with Ilyusha, a boy from one of the poorest families in the town of Skotoprigonyevsk, throwing rocks and then biting the hand of the youngest Karamazov brother, Alyosha, in revenge for Dmitri having dragged Ilyusha’s father out of the local tavern by the beard and ends with Ilyusha succumbing to a mysterious illness. After the boy’s funeral, Alyosha and the boy’s friends gather to remember the child and Alyosha delivers the most impassioned declaration regarding the novel's true force that I have ever read.
“And whether you are absorbed in the most important pursuits, reaching out for the highest honours, or struck down by the cruelest griefs, always remember how good it felt when we were all here together, united by a good and decent feeling, which made us, while we all loved this boy, better people, than we would have otherwise have be . . . I want you to understand, then, that there is nothing nobler, stronger, healthier, and more helpful in life than a great remembrance, particularly a remembrance from our childhood . . . You often hear people speak about upbringing and education, but I feel that a beautiful, holy memory from early childhood can be the most important single thing in our development. And if a person succeeds, in the course of his life, in collecting many such memories, he will be saved for the rest of his life. So let us never forget [Ilyusha], let us always treasure his memory in our hearts, now and always!”
The boys respond to Alyosha’s plea for remembrance with a deliriously emphatic, “Yes, yes, now and always! Forever and ever!” and, such is the spell that the novel had woven around me and so profound was the up-swelling of emotion that overcame me as I read this passage on the second to last page, that it felt - in this simple coming together in the common cause of remembering a fallen comrade - like the entirety of humankind’s collective fate rested on the boys’ and Alyosha's ability to safeguard the sacred promise they made to each other.
It’s a feeling I’d have plenty of time to reflect upon as I read The Hermit of Africville over the course of a single rainy autumn day, for the story of Eddie Carvery holds within it both a similar forcefulness and a purity of intention which, when the very world itself seems to be hanging in the balance, made it feel as if his story could in fact be a fulcrum upon which the entirety of our collective, national fates might be made to swing (in the sense of a fulcrum being 'one that supplies capability for action').
Much of Eddie’s own memories center around his Granny Pink’s house, a social hub which also housed the community’s post office and which was described thusly:
Granny Pink lived at 1893 Barrington Street, just before the pavement ended and Africville began. Her house, the big white one, sat on the main road. Next to her house was a driveway, then three more houses, mostly her relations. Behind her house, the field ran right down to the shore. Near it was a little house in a little field with little apple trees and a white picket fence. This was Eddie’s house.
What struck me most when re-reading this passage was the repetition of 'house' seven times and “little' thrice, a device which serves to reinforce in the reader’s mind, how each of these houses will shortly be bulldozed and how petty, or small-minded, were the decisions which led to the razing of Africville.
Another recurrent motif in the book concerns the open garbage dump on the outskirts of the community upon which Eddie and his brother and friends would spend entire days scavenging for anything they could sell, a meagre source of income which kept him and his family afloat in the leanest of times, often at grave personal peril (Nova Scotia actor Elliot Page recently made a stunning documentary called There’s Something In The Water about the fact that Nova Scotia has historically placed garbage dumps within Black communities which views like a report on how the province has used such means to conduct a toxic war on Black Nova Scotians. I’d strongly urge all Canadians to search it out on Netflix).
One of the book's more disturbing sections recounts how a 'city man' told residents that a shipment of alcohol was being deposited at the dump.
“Mix it with your home brew and you’ll get a good drunk out of it,” he told the Africvillians. What he didn’t tell them was that the 'alcohol' was actually wood spirit.
Dozens of men had gone blind overnight. Others crawled the street in agony and were rushed to the hospital. There were bodies dead where they fell at the kitchen table. Bodies in the street, people who didn’t make it home.
But the most harrowing, and genuinely disturbing, account of life for Eddie in Africville occurs when Eddie takes a dip in Tibby’s Pond, the local swimming hole. What he didn’t know on that day was that “the city had hooked a sewer pipe to the Infectious Diseases Hospital that sat fenced off above Africville . . . and had run the pipe underground and pointed it to empty into Tibby’s Pond. So the waste of the city, mixed with the toxic waste of the Infectious Diseases Hospital, poured directly into the swimming hole, mixing with the people, the food and dishes they washed in it, the fish they ate, and even their fine, white robes as they praised God and were dunked under the water by the minister on baptism day.”
Eddie’s whole body became covered with weeping sores and it's hard to imagine anyone, except the most committed bigot, not being filled with a sense of abject horror as, after Eddie is sent to recover with family in Sackville, his Aunt Margaret “used iodine to wash his skin clean, iodine on raw sores hurts like hell. Eddie creamed like a banshee, howled like a hurricane, cried like a monsoon.” The chapter ends with “Eddie got better. Eddie went home to Africville” and this will become the book’s dominant reoccurring theme.
It seems, at times, that not even Eddie really knows why he keeps returning home and what’s especially affecting about journalist Tattrie’s technique is that he allows this confusion to ferment in the reader’s mind, granting us only fleeting glimpses into the myriad of small victories which stayed Eddie to the course when any reasonable, or even halfway sane, person would have long given up and crawled inside a bottle or a pipe on his way to the final indignity of a pauper’s grave.
Take, for example, the barely one and a half pages which comprise Chapter 58, a section which starts off with Eddie’s brother Victor joining Eddie in his vigil, while eschewing his own wife’s protest by declaring, “When you’re called out to fight from Father God himself, then there’s nothing in town for me. Absolutely nothing. I have to do what has to be done, and that’s to rectify the evil that has been imposed on my community.”
And while it would be all-too-easy to juxtapose this with the lack of any similarly genuine resolve amongst the social justice and climate activists sprouting like so many weeds from within the so-called progressives in our (predominantly) white middle and upper classes, Tattrie seems to have a different lesson in mind.
“In the daytime,” Tattrie writes a few short paragraphs later, “Victor and Eddie walked their dogs around Africville. The part of town where Granny Pink had lived, where she kept her post office, and nearby where Eddie and Victor were born, that was all buried under mountains of landfill. But outside the park where the grass grew wild, Africville was only slightly buried. Victor started digging up the old foundations, finding bottles and antique remnants of his demolished world. He found an old stroller rotted into the earth, spokes looking like a skeleton. He wondered what child had sat in the stroller back in Africville. He found an old set of steps leading nowhere and put it at the door to the missing church. He started building a shrine of bottles and candles to honour the ghost temple.”
It is within these moments of reclamation which point, as in Alyosha’s plea for remembrance, to an as-of-yet unrealised future that Tattrie forces us to imagine, not only what might have been, but what could still be. The most profound sense of what was lost when Africville was bulldozed, and what might yet be reclaimed, came for me nearing the end when he wrote:
Eddie imagined a city that had opted to invest the $800,000 in upgrading Africville, not destroying it. He saw a bustling waterside town, full of happy homes and thriving businesses. A funky cultural mecca, a must-see on any tourist’s trip to Halifax.
In my own imaginings, what Eddie describes is nothing short of a northern New Orleans - an impression bolstered in my mind by the wealth of musical talent I personally witnessed among the residents of Sunnyville and Lincolnville. Ultimately, this is how Tattrie so exactingly imbues The Hermit Of Africville (both the book and the man) with its message of hope in the face of staggering futility, shining a light on a man who so indelibly stood against a tsunami wave of grief spawned by our own petty greed and bigotry.
He and Eddie Carvery - and so many Indigenous Land Defenders all across this country - have done nothing less than to carve a space which allows us to imagine what kind of world we might be able to create if we all demonstrated a similar resolve.
Jon Tattrie is an award-winning author and journalist. His previous books include Redemption Songs: How Bob Marley's Nova Scotia Song Lights the Way Past Racism and Cornwallis: The Violent Birth of Halifax.
100% of the royalties from The Hermit of Africville go to Eddie Carvery and his protest.